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27 June 2010


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Brian Hart


Given the cost of our current military Afghan footprint of about $7 billion a month if memory loosely serves, if we pared back our personnel and military hardware footprint to more of a counter terror role would see billions in savings over current expenditures.

A few billion actually used for humanitarian purposes would have a higher probability of payoff and would still cost us less than our current surge to nowhere military strategy.

I'd even suggest spending more on public education over in Pakistan as well and perhaps eliminating all tariffs for trade between the US and Pakistan to help stimulate their economy. Pakistan could be an competitive textile exporter for example.

If it costs us $1 million to field a soldier in Afghanistan a year and far less than $10,000 to employ a marginally effective Afghan soldier or policeman one need only do the math to see that we could field 100x1 if we used locals who for all their faults speak a local language even if they can't read it and their quantity brings a quality all their own - namely being in 99 more places than our one soldier at any one time.

This approach has the benefit of being achievable and still serves America's long term interests in a realistic manner.

I hope this answers your need for a hasty reply.


Found Stephen Biddle 2009 article in The American Interest, on the rationale for war in Afghanistan.

He cites two US strategic interests:

1) Denying Afghanistan to al Queda

2) Pakistan's stability, which the US has very limited ability to influence. He defines the danger of Pakistan instability solely in terms of a terrorist nuclear threat. "The single greatest U.S. interest in Afghanistan [is]: to prevent it from aggravating Pakistan’s internal problems and magnifying the danger of an al-Qaeda nuclear-armed sanctuary there."

The latter cause tips the balance slightly toward war, he says. But overall he calls the Afghan front "a close call on the merits."

After considering obstacles to a successful COIN campagin, including a) the historically low success rate of any COIN, b) inadequate local allies, c) the fact that such campaigns require years, the best outcome he can envision is: "failure is not inevitable."

Furthermore, "Nor does success in Afghanistan guarantee success in Pakistan: There is a chance that we could struggle our way to stability in Afghanistan at great cost and sacrifice, only to see Pakistan collapse anyway under the weight of its own elite misjudgments and deep internal divisions."

In Biddle's view the central reason for "reinforcement instead of withdrawal" in 2009 is domestic politics. Democrats cannot afford to play into the Republican narrative of Democratic weakness on military matters and war. And if the worst case scenario were to follow, nuclear arms in terrorist hands through government failure in Pakistan (which Biddle rates as very unlikely, not impossible), then, he says, it could be more than a decade for Democrats to recover.

So Biddle in 2009 argues that we must keep fighting because we are already fighting and whichever party blinks first will be charged with every danger that occurs afterwards, Even though the present war has, at best, a limited chance of affecting outcomes that US seeks. Even though there is little the US can do to affect the course of Pakistan, where the real danger lies. Even though the chances of success in COIN are low.

Two relevant points seem unaddressed in Biddle's discussion.
1) What non-military options or non-COIN military options might be considered to address these strategic concerns?

2) What reason is there to assume that a Taliban Afghanistan poses any significant threat to Pakistan's stability? He asserts that the present Taliban is much less unified than in the 90s. Was it destabilizing to Pakistan in 90's? Did US care then?

Was Biddle trying to make the weakest argument. Is that really all there is? Is he dissembling about strategic aims; are there no other ambitions driving such a costly agenda?

I notice a new Biddle article in July/August 2010 Foreign Affairs, "Defining Success in Afghanistan". For which group in the foreign policy pantheon does he speak? Seems winds may be shifting slightly, or definitions are.

From above the subscription line:
Summary: Since 2001, the West has tried to build a strong centralized government in Afghanistan. But such an approach fits poorly with the country's history and political culture. The most realistic and acceptable alternative models of governance are decentralized democracy and a system of internal mixed sovereignty.

clifford kiracofe


1. In addition to the books I have mentioned previously, I would recommend the following biography of Leo Cherne. He was a proto-Neocon from the 40s. Essential for understanding the Neocon/New York/Freedom House crowd and the milieu spawning Neoconism. (Kissinger wrote the foreward):

Andrew F. Smith, Rescuing the World. The Life of Leo Cherne (Albany:SUNY,2002)

2. In this context, we can also examine Hans Morgenthau the Zionist Socialist lawyer emigre to the US who somehow laid part of the foundations for a strain of Neoconism. The Swiss scholar Christoph Frei dissects and deconstructs Morgenthau in the book: Hans J. Morgenthau, An Intellectual Biography (Baton Rouge: LSU, 2001)

3. IMO, the best study of authentic strains of European "realism" is Friedrich Meinecke's: Die Idee der Staatsraeson, Munich: Oldenbourg Verlag 1924. In the post-WWI atmosphere, Meinecke had time for reflection about some of his earlier stances.

Brian Hart

How does having 100K+ troops in Afghanistan stabilize Pakistan?

Wouldn't it be more practical and cost effective to encourage trade with Pakistan, develop its economy, tap its labor force, encourage educational opportunities, build universities, hospitals, girls' schools?

If the purpose of having a very large military force in Afghanistan is to insure a stable secular nuclear Pakistan, then there are surely more efficient means of doing so.

Looking over this thread, besides keeping al Qaeda from gaining a base in Af/Pakistan and preventing a nuclear Pakistan from going rogue, I haven't seen a single argument worth dying for.

N M Salamon

Mr Silverman:

The problem is that the total requisite ot funding for sovereign debts is beyond the capabilities of the money pools of the world:

please observe:


even at 3% interest the cost of interest for the USA economy is in excess of 9% of GDP already [and we know that private/commercial debt is dearer than 3%].
So the central banks have to PRINT MONEY FROM THIN AIR - which sooner than later leads to rising inflation.

Would the lenders react to USA debt as they did to Spain [ a country with lower PUBLIC debt GDP % than the USA - esp if the debts of Fannie, Freddie, Ginnie are counted due to explicit guarantee] the interest due by Uncle Sam would exceed 15% of GDP -and also displace most private loan requisite leading to deteriation of the nation's economy.

At some point of rising interest rates the fiasco could get out of hand. This especially true due to the fudging of CPI and GDP numbers by the Government as illustrated by;

Congress does not semm to have interest in the long term unemployed $1200/month/per unit, yet wants to fund solders at 1M per in Afganistan. I do not thnink that this measure will add to the economy of USA, except for the military industrial complex, which itself is a study of misappropriation of funds and scarce resources [most of which are a total loss for the world's economy, for they cause DESTRUCTION OF ASSETS -ammo, buildings , lives, medical costs etc ad infinitum.

When a person is close to bankrtupcy, a change in life style is required! When a nation overextends militarily and is in debt, if either changes [hopefully for USA] or goes bankrupt a la USSR, Great Britain, Rome, Athens, etc .

Please observe that the USA is a prime example of continous default on loans, by the constant devaluation of her Currency since the Federal Reserve Act has benn implemented, with Presidents Nixon's and Roosevelt fooling around with the gold standard, with Forex change of 1$=300 Yen to 1$= 100 yen or less etc. All this, of course, leads to lower standard of living over the years - a sign of constant inflation.

N M Salamon

MR Silverman and all others:

Please peruse:

Graphical analysis of net debt of the major OECD members and comparison to USA .

Then Weep!

Richard Armstrong

Who gives a tinkers damn if Pakistan and India launches nukes at each other.

Please, with a straight face explain the strategic implication for the US in the event that this happens?

The world may have a couple of more "failed states" but let me remind you that a "failed state" is not a prerequisite for a terrorist attack.

The attack on the Murrah Building came from Kansas. While there are more cattle in Kansas than people I do not consider Kansas to be a "failed state".

Brian Hart

A de facto partition of Afghanistan is well worth discussing in its own thread.


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